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The invisible injury at work

Bruises, lacerations, burns and fractures are types of injury which come to one’s mind when thinking about an accident at work.

Often it is very easy to forget that whilst an accident at work may result in a physical injury there are also certain people who will develop psychological injury. A psychological injury is no less traumatic compared to a visible physical injury and can have a long lasting effect.

An employer has a responsibility and duty of care that includes an employee’s mental health as well as their physical wellbeing. An employer must take reasonable steps to minimise the risk of both a psychological injury and physical injury. Failure to do so can leave an employer liable for compensation.

Mental and emotional distress is a common feature of workplace accidents but can be harder to treat unlike the physical aspects of an injury.

Where physical injury does occur, the psychological effects are often disregarded but can have a substantial influence both on the speed and quality of recovery. Psychological injuries differ from physical injuries in the fact that they may not be immediately apparent or diagnosable. Individuals often have difficulty discussing psychological issues but it is important that consideration is given to such injuries to promote recovery and to ensure that adequate compensation is obtained.

There are many instances where an employee will experience time off sick from work, a reduction in income causing financial hardship, pressure from the employer to return to work or threats of dismissal and potentially being forced to change employment or having to give up employment. The consequences also affect the injured person’s family.

When an employee experiences any of these situations, they will inevitably experience stress, depression or anxiety. Post-traumatic stress disorder often develops in these cases and is not uncommon.

Example of workplace incidents which may trigger psychological injury:

  • Burns or scar injuries which results in loss of confidence relating to physical appearance
  • Needlestick injury where an employee has to undergo rigorous testing to rule out infection or transmitted illnesses
  • Bullying and/or harassment at work
  • Amputation injury prompting suicide attempts
  • Physical injuries where an employee suffers long term disability and is unable to work
  • Members of the armed forces and emergency services will frequently witness distressing incidents which may trigger post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

There are a great many sensitivities to be considered around mental health issues at work. If you are experiencing psychological symptoms that are affecting your well-being, it is important that you seek guidance from you GP.